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Graduated athletes appreciate extended eligibility after spring season cut short

Archive: Westminster College senior Phebe Walker plays against BYU Feb. 29 on the Dumke Field. Lacrosse athletes, along with those on the men’s and women’s golf teams and outdoor track and field, will be granted an extended season of eligibility by the NCAA because of seasons being cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Courtesy: Eric Stephens)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March, Westminster College was among several schools to cancel spring championships and cut seasons short in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. 

Despite the initial disappointment, the NCAA Division I Council announced student-athletes could return for another season of eligibility after they graduated — so long as they enrolled in an academic program.

Students said this chance to return was a relief after the sudden end to the spring season.

“When our season ended early, I was devastated,” said Phebe Walker, a student-athlete who graduated in May. “The team worked so hard throughout the year so having our season taken from us was an awful feeling, especially for the seniors like myself. I was very emotional when I heard that I could have another chance to finish my senior season all the way through.” 

Walker said lacrosse had been a passion of hers and the uncertainty of the season’s end left her feeling as if she had unfinished business.

“I decided to come back to get that opportunity to finish my lacrosse career the right way and show how much I have grown by helping the team succeed,” Walker said.

Despite extended eligibility, it’s still unclear how the spring season will play out for student-athletes as the pandemic continues. 

Some students speculated the current stringent health checks will continue and hopefully give way to more opportunities to compete.

“I think that there will still be really strict restrictions on how we get tested often and do symptom checks every day,” said Cassie Campos, a student who returned to finish her golf season. “I hope that we will be able to travel to California again and that there will be more teams for us to play.”  

Director of Athletics Shay Wyatt said the college’s quick responses to the pandemic have allowed student-athletes to participate as fully as possible this season.

“[Adhering to safety guidelines] has allowed all of our sport programs this fall to have some level of team activity,” Wyatt said in an email to The Forum. “Our men’s and women’s cross country and golf programs have been permitted to compete this fall in conference play which has been positive for the student-athletes on those teams.”

Although individual sports were able to go on as scheduled for the Fall semester, the athletics program pushed several team sports to the spring — where they hope for a full season. 

“Our winter and spring sports are scheduled to begin competition over the winter break and or the spring semester if all goes as planned,” he said.

As Utah’s COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, positive rates and deaths continue to rise, however, it’s unclear whether all will go “as planned.” This comes as Utah shattered records Friday reporting 2,987 confirmed cases and 17 new deaths. 

“If nothing changes,” Wyatt said, “We will have to continue to manage as we have and adjust our guidelines and protocols as necessary to help ensure the health and well-being of our campus community and the best student experience possible.”

Forum reporter Emerson Fratzke contributed to this report.

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